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Fact Sheets about a number of employment law issues

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The purpose of a warning is to advise an employee that their work performance or conduct is unsatisfactory, and to put the employee on notice that the performance or conduct in issue needs to be improved.

Warnings (or the lack of them) can be relevant in unfair dismissal claims, where the Fair Work Commission (FWC) must decide whether a termination of employment was harsh, unjust or unreasonable.

Warnings may also be relevant in assessing whether an employer is complying with its contractual obligations.

Finally, if warnings are issued unfairly and it can be shown that they are being used to target people with a particular characteristic (e.g. people with a disability, people of a certain age etc) it may be argued that the employer is in breach of federal or state anti-discrimination laws.

Do I have to sign a warning?

No, you do not have to sign a warning. In cases where you are under pressure to sign a warning and you disagree with it, you can write on the document “I disagree with the contents of this document”, sign it and then write a letter in response to the warning, objecting to the warning and explaining your concerns. Whether you decide to do this or not may depend upon whether you are eligible to make an unfair dismissal claim. Even though you may choose not to sign a warning that has been issued to you, it still has effect as a warning.

What to do if you get a warning

If you disagree with either a written or verbal warning you may choose to respond to it in writing and keep a copy of your response. If the warning is disputed it is important that you are able to show written evidence of having responded to it with your version of events. It is much harder to prove that you responded if you only did so verbally. Three things you should consider doing:

  1. Diarise any conversations or meetings in which performance was an issue.
  2. Find out if you are covered by an Enterprise Agreement or a policy which outlines the procedure that should be followed by your employer when performance or misconduct issues arise. Check that your employer is complying with any such procedure.
  3. For further assistance, contact JobWatch, your union, or a lawyer.

Other topics covered by this Fact Sheet include:

  • An example of a letter you can write in response to a warning
  • The relevance of warnings in unfair dismissal cases
  • Attending meetings with managers about your performance

We encourage everyone to download the Fact Sheet for more information.

For further support

Call our Telephone Information Service on Melbourne Metro (03) 9662 1933 or Regional Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania on 1800 331 617.

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